During social play, children progress through social stages by interacting with other children in recreational and learning activities. The goal of social play is to progress toward and master cooperative play. Children first observe other children then play alone before moving to the stages involving parallel and cooperative play.
The stages of social development for children involve four stages. The first stage is the onlooker stage. During this stage, children observe other children playing and participate very little, if at all, in the activity. The second stage of social play is solitary. Children engage in activities based upon prior observations of other children but play alone. The third stage is parallel play. During this stage, children play alongside other children and engage in similar activities but do not interact directly with the other children. During the final stage, cooperative play, children engage in full-bodied interactions with other children that involve role-playing, conversations and sharing. The stage of cooperative play continues to develop, and children gain further mastery.
Children also develop maturity and values as they participate in social interactions with children and adults. They learn the vital social skills that enable them to interact in adult society. Each stage of social play helps children progress toward effective cooperative play.